Sunday, June 24, 2012

Religion and the Constitution: The Triumph of Practical Politics

By Martin Marty here. A taste:
Northwestern University law professor Stephen Presser has said that "at first blush, it would appear that none but the truly weird would find these two new volumes ... compulsive late-night page-turners." But I joined him in the company of the weird by marking all the references that could be construed as religious. I began at the outer limits with what I call the "sacral penumbra" of nondescript and rather noncommittal incidental references. (These do not include the more frequent and clear references in the sustained arguments discussed later in this essay.) My marker found three favorites: at least 30 "Heavens," as in "merciful Heaven," and 15 or 20 "blessings of heaven"; there were 15 usually casual "sacreds," as in "sacred liberties." God comes up often, but almost never in biblical terms; "God," we remember, was generic for deists and theists, philosophers and believers alike. In one instance in this collection, one John Smilie quotes the Declaration of Independence on the Creator. Beyond that, in these two lengthy volumes there are about 20 references to God, while the Almighty and the Creator make single cameo appearances. We read at least seven times of Providence; the Supremes are here four times, as in Supreme Being and Supreme Ruler of the Universe; Lord, as in "O Lord!" or "the Year of Our Lord," turns up six times, and there is a Sovereign Ruler of Events, one Grace, two Governors (of the World and the Universe),two Nature's Gods, and, for good measure, one Goddess of Liberty. Whether the general absence of the biblical God is intentional or reflects the habits of the Enlightenment, it is significant.

Martin Marty on America's Founding Pluralism

Here. Hat tip Andrew Sullivan.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Constitution Is NOT Based on the Bible

This is one of the worst things David Barton tries to peddle.  See Ed Brayton here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Walters on America's Deist Founding

Here. Kerry Walters of Gettysburg College is one of the leading promoters of the Deist Founding thesis. Ed Brayton takes him to task, arguing for a more accurate and nuanced view.

One thing I liked about Walters' article is the discussion of Bishop James Madison (President Madison's first cousin). I'm not sure whether BJM was orthodox. However he did promote Enlightenment theories, like the perfectibility of man, seemingly at odds with traditional Christianity and intermixed them with his "Christian" theology.

Bishop Madison was the kind of "Christian" that Jefferson liked. Here is Jefferson's letter to BJM, dated Jan. 31, 1800.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Get a Load of This

I could see Chris Rodda titling her post: "David Barton Lies About Warren Throckmorton." Barton claims two professors from Messiah (it's actually Grove City; he must have confused Throckmorton and Coulter with John Fea) didn't use primary sources when they refuted his book, rather they only quoted from other professors. Dr. Throckmorton explains that, to the contrary, they did indeed cite primary sources.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Comment I left Categorizing Religious Beliefs of Founding Fathers

Co-blogger Tom Van Dyke is arguing the controversy at Warren Throckmorton's blog here. This is a long comment I left:

You might want to check out American Creation where we feature news about Dr. Gregg Frazer's new book (and other things as well, including news on Drs. Throckmorton and Fea).

The "key Founders" -- the first 4 Presidents, Ben Franklin, James Wilson, G. Morris and A. Hamilton -- were not "strict Deists" in the absentee Landlord sense.  Yet, they weren't "Christians" in the orthodox sense either.  They were, as Dr. Frazer categorizes them, "theistic rationalists" which is somewhere in between.  The theistic rationalists were theological unitarians.  So others might term them "unitarians."  There are smoking guns that prove this the case with Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin.  The others rely more on circumstantial evidence.  They were all theists (that is believed in an active personal God).  Hamilton was not provably an orthodox Christian until the end of his life (after his son died in a duel).  The other FFs were not provably orthodox Christians during any time in their adult life when they did the work "Founding" the nation.  I'm not aware of other key Founder than Hamilton having an end of life conversion to orthodox Christianity.  George Washington, for instance, died a Stoic death where he asked for no ministers and said no prayers.  But you never know what's going on in someone's head and heart before they take their last breath.

David Holmes prefers to term the key Founders "Christian-Deists," as opposed to the non-Christian deism of Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine and Elihu Palmer.  But those three were the only notable "strict Deists" among the Founders.  (It's debatable whether Palmer was a notable Founder).

There were a lot of orthodox Christians among the 2nd and lower tier Founders.  They include John Witherspoon, John Jay, Roger Sherman, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry.

With regards to the rest, well, we just don't know.  Proving they had some kind of formal affiliation with an orthodox Church -- which THEY ALL DID -- really proves nothing other than they had some kind of formal affiliation with an orthodox Church.

It would be error to assume, as some do, the rest were "all" something.  Elias Boudinot and Fisher Ames were probably orthodox Christians.  Benjamin Rush was an orthodox Christian Universalist who believed in the doctrine of universal salvation, believing all would be saved through Christ's universal, as opposed to limited Atonement.  Timothy Pickering was a unitarian, and William Livingston may have been.  John Marshall was a unitarian who converted to orthodoxy shortly before he died.  Joel Barlow was either a strict deist or perhaps an atheist.

Gregg Frazer Interviewed By TGC

Here. You should read the whole thing. But I like where Dr. Frazer discusses David Holmes' thesis:
As the title of my book suggests, my project was to determine the religious beliefs of the key founders, so I was not very concerned with public activities---except in cases in which an activity would have been unpopular or controversial or somehow gives insight into actual belief.  Consequently, my only interest in church attendance is to show some interest in Christianity and to trace the frequency of church attendance when the public is watching compared to when it is not.

As for the sacraments, I find Washington's steadfast refusal to take communion and Hamilton's intense desire to do so after his conversion to Christ (but not before) to be very informative.

The significance of religious activity and inactivity entirely depends on the nature of the activity and what it reveals about sincerely held belief and not on mere frequency or public recognition.

I consider their use of religious language to be absolutely crucial. There is no other way to get at what they really believed. What language did they use in public versus private?  What terms for God did they use?  Did they use specifically Christian language or generic "religious" language?

A matter of language that is critically important is to determine what they meant by certain terms.  Too often, for example, Christian America advocates simply cite quotes in which founders refer to "Christianity" or "Christian" and leave the false impression with Christian readers/listeners that those words meant the same thing to the founders as they do to them.  But key founders such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin meant something very different by those words.  They created their own versions of "Christianity" that bore very little resemblance to its actual or common meaning.  Other words such as "bigot" had very different meanings in the 18th century than they do today and proper understanding requires recognition and explanation of that fact.

A centerpiece of my argument is my conviction that the terms "Christian" and "deist" have been so broadly applied to the founders that they've become virtually meaningless categories.  This is largely due to the fact that those two categories have been the only generally accepted niches, so individuals have been shoehorned into one of those identifications whether they fit or not. I carefully define both terms to provide boundaries that would have been recognized in 18th-century America in order to produce more accuracy---more truth in labeling.

Holmes's conclusions seem to me to illustrate my point perfectly.  While we do not deal with exactly the same people, Holmes covers five of the eight persons I class as "key founders."  In common with virtually everyone (except me), he calls Jefferson and Franklin deists.  Along with many scholars, but not necessarily a majority, he also calls Madison a deist.  But his determinations regarding George Washington and John Adams highlight the "shoehorn" activity mentioned above and particularly point to the need for my work.  He calls Washington a "Deistic Episcopalian" and Adams a "Christian Deist."  In 18th-century terms, these descriptions are nonsensical---and they do not stand up to the evidence.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

John Fea on Gregg Frazer's New Book

Here. He gives us a little bit. I hope there is more to come.

Another WorldNetDaily Article

that doesn't "get" the religious pluralism of the American Founding. It's here. The article features a pastor who holds to a very strict understanding of the Christian faith, trying to claim the "Christian" heritage of the American Founding while juxtaposing the terms "Christian" and "Judeo-Christian."

The context of controversy is some local town opens its meetings in Jesus name and America's United For Separation of Church and State files a complaint telling them to consider more generic prayers or not having prayers at all.

My main beef with the Pastor's thoughts is the idea that America has an exclusively "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian" "foundation." No. America has a synthesis foundation. It's not exclusive. It's pluralistic. It's Protestant Christian, Hebraic, Enlightenment, Whig, Common Law, Natural Law/Natural Rights, noble pagan (Greco-Roman, and even Anglo-Saxon).

And, to repeat, it's pluralistic.

If it is "Judeo-Christian," and there are Jews at the town meeting, well, they probably don't want to hear prayers in Jesus' name. While I can't speak for how the Founding era chaplains opened their meetings -- I agree with the Pastor, that, I'm sure a lot of it was done in Jesus name -- I do know that the first four Presidents never prayed in Jesus name while acting as President. George Washington, for instance, a great man of prayer, was never recorded as praying in Jesus name ever.

(The closest you get to a prayer in Jesus name among Founding Presidents was the unitarian John Adams' Thanksgiving Address which mentioned the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Which, by the way, John Adams later regretted giving.)

Something tells me the pastor doesn't want to appreciate the American Founding's inclusive and religiously pluralistic heritage because it looks too close to "the universalism message that ‘all religious views hold equal value and consideration[,]’” which he derides. Well that heritage is just as "there" in America's Founding along with the "Christian" and "Judeo-Christian" heritage.

I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian

By DAVID V. MASON at the New York Times here. And here is Philip Jenkin's takedown. From the NYT piece:
For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons don’t believe — in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century — that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether. The Mormon reaction is incredulity. The Christian retort is exasperation. Rinse and repeat.
This is pretty bad. Apparently the Nicene Creed teaches modalism. Rather, orthodox Trinitarianism actually teaches the Father is NOT the Son is NOT the Holy Spirit, and so on. That is, the three Persons in the Trinity are ETERNALLY distinct. Yet those three Persons are one God. Modalism teaches the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three non-eternally distinct "modes" of one God. Therefore, a modalist could say that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit because they are three different "modes" of one God. Modalism, like Mormonism, is a heresy according to orthodox doctrine as found in the Nicene Creed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Joe Farah Commits the Christian Nation Error

In this article here. John Hagee commits the error too. Indeed, it's evangelical megachurches and homeschoolers who are likeliest to fall into this trap. I'm going to skirt the issue of whether atheists can be good Americans (I think they can), and rather focus on the problems with Farah's thesis.  As he argues:
America was founded on a creedal statement. It can be found in the Declaration of Independence: 
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
Thus, America was founded on the principle that the Creator God endowed men with certain unalienable rights. This statement formed the basis of self-governance in a world ruled by kings and tyrants. It is the principle that set America apart from the rest of the world. 
It’s important to note that the founders – and most of the 2 million people living in America at the time of the founding – were Christians who believed in the One True God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They weren’t referring to any other god. They rejected Allah. They rejected paganism in all its forms. They rejected atheism.
America was thus founded as a Judeo-Christian nation, tolerant of other views, but with the understanding that only a moral people governing themselves to the best of their ability under God’s eternal laws were capable of maintaining the liberty established uniquely under this covenant.
The problems with Farah's argument are manifold.  Let's dig in.  Farah connects the DOI with his understanding of biblical Christianity which then slips into "Judeo-Christian." I'm not exactly sure what the modernish term "Judeo-Christian" means. As fundamentalists like Farah use it, apparently it means the orthodox Christian God where Jews get to tag along because of the special place they have as antecedents to Christians. Indeed, evangelicals like Farah, John Hagee, and Hal Lindsey who interpret biblical prophesy as demanding a pro-Israel stance (not all of them do) are, I observe, especially likely to parrot "Jews and Christians worship the same God, and Muslims (and apparently everyone else) do not."

Farah then quotes from Founders John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin to support his case.  The problem is these Founders were not "Christians" according to his understanding of the faith.  They all rejected the Trinity.  Farah didn't have to reference those Founders.  But given they wrote the DOI it's understandable that he did.

It's simply not true that those Founders "rejected Allah."  To the contrary, they rejected Joe Farah's exclusivist understanding of the faith.  I have evidence from each of those three Founders AND from George Washington claiming that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  AND I have evidence from Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Madison claiming unconverted Great Spirit worshipping Indians worship the same God they did.

Moreover, Farah wrongly claims the Founders rejected "paganism in all its forms."  They actually held the noble pagans of Ancient Greece and Rome (whose surnames they adopted) in very high regard.

Finally, the DOI is not a "biblical covenant."  Rather it's a social contract that references a generic monotheistic God as the guarantor of unalienable natural rights.

Gregg Frazer on the Radio

Plugging his new book. First, May 26, 2012 on David Wheaton's show. And second, on the Frank Pastore show.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

America's 'Fighting Chaplain' rides again

For a change, perhaps something good from WorldNetDaily. It's about Rev. James Caldwell. This was actually reprinted from Leben. I don't know enough about the history of Presbyterians and the American Revolution to comment. But I know friends, among others John Fea and Mark David Hall, are interested in this subject matter. Perhaps they can chime in on the accuracy of the article.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Announcement of the George Washington Book Prize

Some cool clips with John Fea here. And here are some cool pics (check out the Justice Alito spotting). Finally, it was nice to see Dr. Fea and Mary V. Thompson together.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

David Barton’s whitewash of Thomas Jefferson as a slave owner

From Warren Throckmorton here.

Warren Throckmorton on Getting Jefferson Right on WORD-FM

You may listen to it here. Tip: You may listen to the entire broadcast if you'd like, but there are a lot of commercials and Prof. Throckmorton's segment doesn't begin until the 1:14:00 mark.

John Fea on Barton's New Book Parts 5 and 6

Here is part 5. And here is part 6.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Quixotic Task of Debunking David Barton

By Paul Harvey here. He reviews "Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President," by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter. A taste:
They find without fail that the claims fall into one of the following categories: 1) complete falsehoods (there are plenty of those); 2) misleading falsehoods (such as the story about wanting Christian imagery on the national seal—true, but on the other side of the seal, had Jefferson gotten his wish, would have been a pagan story); 3) true, but entirely irrelevant and ultimately misleading statements (such as signing documents with “the Year of our Lord,” which he did because pre-packaged treaty forms had that language, and had about as much meaning as signing “Dear” in our salutations in letters to complete strangers); 4) statements with a “kernel” of truth but blown so far out of proportion as to end up being false (such as Jefferson wanting federal funding for Indian missions, when in fact the titles of the bills simply took on the name of already existing religious societies; 5) baffling assertions that are so far out of the realm of reality as to be neither “true” nor “false,” but simply bizarre (such as Barton’s defense of Jefferson’s views on race, which were disturbingly ugly even by the standards of his era).

John Fea on David Barton's New Book

While I was away John Fea posted on David Barton's new book. Here is part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4. Also look for Tom Van Dyke's comments.

CPS Conference Done

I had a great time at the Christians in Political Science Conference. My presentation went as well as I could have hoped for. More on that later. Further I was treated very graciously, as a guest (as opposed to a member). I enjoyed meeting Gregg Frazer face to face for the first time and, as well, getting to know better, among others, Daniel Dreisbach, Mark David Hall, and Gary Scott Smith, all of whose work I enjoy and respect. Finally, I'm glad I got to meet Anthony Gill who bought me a beer. He is an amazing public speaker and has some great ideas too.